Power Cap

Power cap- existential handicapping

23 May 2012

A turning point?

Racing stands at the brink of greatness again with an 12th bid for the Triple Crown, the first one in 34 years if I'll Have Another is successful.  At this point the failed bids since the last sweep at the throne now exceed the number of champions who climbed the peak.  Averaged out, there has been one try every three years for this title for a horse no to do this at this point is abnormal.  As a weathered racing fan once said, “Anything is possible and probable.”  Could this year’s challenger do it?  He stands just as good a chance as his last ten peers who attempted the feat.  Racing needs more than one champion to spur a revival in the sport though.

Competition lends to the sport; the past two races in the series were close finishes between two top tier runners for their generation that sparked debate and strong opinions among the fans.  More of the same throughout the rest of the year in the other important races would be unreal.  The elite of horse racing needs to meet up more that two or three times in the year.  Top horses vying for the big prizes sparks interest and increased handle on the big days.  We had a taste of this in 2007 when Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun, and Rags to Riches met up in the spring and later on the first two mentioned had a rematch in the Classic with Horse of the Year on the line.  Unfortunately, Hard Spun and Street Sense were whisked away to stud leaving Curlin all alone to do the entire heavy lifting the following year.  More competition at the top is better for the product, people like seeing the best of any sport going head to head frequently.  Thus more incentive should be put up to see elite meet up more often.

There are other divisions than the three-year-old colts; it is hard to believe that from the coverage racing receives beyond the Belmont Stakes.  The second half of the racing season has taken up bigger importance now that the top horses are on a lighter schedule.  Every race in each division takes on a playoff feel as the season progresses.  Now that NBC Sports has picked coverage of the important races in the summer and fall one would hope that this takes place.  The more coverage that horse racing receives, the better it is for all involved.  More casual fans could show up and increased wagering volume is a positive byproduct that could be seen from this.

All the tools are there for thoroughbred racing to make a decent comeback.  Last time this sport was in a position to move forward was 2008, NBC had 2/3 of the Triple Crown and ESPN had rights to most of the major races from June on.  ESPN did little with their resources, minimized their coverage, and racing remained stagnant from the point that Big Brown pulled up on the far turn at Belmont.  NBC Sports and horse racing are sitting on a gold mine win, lose, or draw on the afternoon of June 9th.  It is all about the utilization of the tools at their disposal.

26 April 2012

All roads lead to Louisville

The prep season for the Derby is just about complete barring a monstrous effort by anything coming out of the Derby Trial.  Before going into full immersion on the major three year old stakes; the Derby Trial is more or less an early season long sprint/middle distance race for sophomore runners rather than a major stepping stone towards Triple Crown glory, it’s probably time to rename that race. 

The first of six big three-year-old races was the Florida Derby, featuring the Uncle Mo like flop of Union Rags.  Read what you will into his race-day performances of 2012, but on the surface he has yet to step up in a major way on paper with middling pace and speed figures.  If you are firmly entrenched in his camp all is not lost though, Matz is an all-pro conditioner and he is trying to get his runner to peak on the third start.  As for the winner Take Charge Indy, he was on the best part of the track on that day and capitalized.  Reveron, the runner-up was a rank outsider that chased throughout and held off a hard charging Union Rags, there evidence of a speed bias is apparent from this day as well.

A day later the Louisiana Derby was shook to it’s core by a 109-1 longshot that wired from post 12.  Mark Valeski was put on the bubble by not winning this race and he ran alright here.   He could be a solid value if he makes the final cut.  It should be noted that the Louisiana path to the Kentucky Derby has been a treacherous one since Grindstone won in 1996.

The Wood Memorial was a tight stretch run between Gemologist and Alpha where both accomplished what they needed to do going into the first Saturday in May.  Gemologist needed a win or a strong performance to move on and Alpha needed earnings to stay away from the brink.  Off the two Alpha looked like the the better performance.  From the DRF charts:
 “APLHA rubbed shoulders with CASUAL TRICK leaving the starting gate, took the inside route in the initial stages, was steadied off of another’s heels midway around the opening bend…”
The comments on Alpha continue on to mention that he went three wide for his stretch run over a track that favored the inside.  Gemologist faced Currency Swap in his 2012 debut, Currency Swap went on to finish in a separate zip code from the Illinois Derby winner in his next start.

 I’ll Have Another has had one of the greater form reversals seen in long time, after a distant effort in the Hopeful in the Saratoga mud he has put together two stakes wins off of said September layoff.  The field of 20 will test his mettle with a stronger early pace. Creative Cause had his form enhanced thanks to Bodemiester’s monster effort in the Arkansas Derby.

The Bluegrass came up a fast race on pace and speed figures in limited data at the distance.  From the looks of it though, there won’t be much of a change in this number for this boutique meet.  This race was the tale of two halves with Hansen winging it early in his usual fast early, slowing down late style and Dullahan making a dramatic sweeping run to the winner’s circle in the final 3/8 of a mile.  Dullahan is winless on the dirt, but he faced tough competition last fall on that surface.  He was fourth behind Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause in the Juvenile.  He made a grand sweeping move in that race as well.  Workouts will tell the tale of how things will go with this one.

 Last but not least is the tour de force performance of Bodemiester, the likely Derby favorite.  So far his brief time on the track Bodemiester has showcased turbo-charged performances that bear a striking resemblance to Curlin’s early career trajectory.  All the intangibles of his recent victory have been mentioned repeatedly elsewhere and need no repeating here.  He will factor into the early pace in a big way with Hansen and the assorted hopeless speed bombers that will sign up.  He either will be Big Brown or Bellamy Road in this race; the likely low odds in a crowded field are no treat at all.

The average odds of the Derby winner from the past three years have been 28-1 with the low being 8-1 and the high being 50-1.  The prospectus of this year’s group looks less likely for tote board busting payouts in comparison to recent years.  If the history of the big race day returns have proved anything though, it is that even the likely results can produce a decent return on investment. 

10 March 2012

2012 Derby Failure Five

Better late than never, I am blaming Union Rags for this. According to e-mails I receive from the Daily Racing Form, the Kentucky Derby season is in full swing. It doesn’t feel like it though. The meticulously planned out campaigns of the top runners and likely nominees for the failure five list are planned out into such detail that some of the hopefuls will scratch from a race on the faintest feeling of a stiff breeze. Last year’s lists fared pretty well with a high failure or success rate depending on the point of view. Maybe there is a pressure to perform on the next go around, we shall see.

1. Union Rags

Top of the heap after his visually impressive score in the Fountain of Youth. The pace and speed figures were a bit pedestrian. Last year I was on the Tapizar bandwagon and the tires went flat on that, this year it is Union Rags. Only two starts to the Derby, there is not much room for error if a prep or work is missed.

2. Hansen

Here is a synopsis of his two races this year (leader in races among top derby prospects), fast early and slowing down late. The Wood is the next stop from all indications and he certainly doesn’t need the earnings to get in. Look for more refinement of the rating tactics that Dominguez employed in the Gotham next out.

3. El Padrino

Algorithms is off the trail. Too bad, that one had a lot of talent. El Padrino is the Pletcher pinch hitter off of a popular Risen Star score. Usually Fair Grounds runners have a tough pull, it’s been over a decade since Grindstone captured the bed of roses via the bayou.

4. Feb Biz/I'll Have Another/Any colt that has won an allowance or maiden race at Santa Anita

Pretty interchangeable part of the list, it seems that there is a good-looking winner out there at least once a week and Baffert usually trains the colt. It would not register as a surprise if the Santa Anita Derby draws twelve entries this year.

Ed. Note: Out of Bounds was originally here until someone pointed out he was injured a few days ago. Shows how much I follow the racing product at Santa Anita.

5. Alpha

NYRA has boosted its purses and moved around its stakes schedule to be more prominent, so far it has produced some timid fields and short priced victors. Alpha ran fast enough to be competitive deeper into the season in his Withers score, but he has to do it again against the big boys to be taken seriously. The Florida Derby will be the acid test for this one.

08 February 2012

From the infield

I got out to the infield at Aqueduct a while back and recently I got out onto the massive infield of Belmont Park, it is no wonder they used the middle of this racetrack as a landing strip at one point.

Winter track maintenance

The surface of champions

Widener Turf Course

Inner turf course, home of the Manhattan Handicap

Old tote, minus light board

Inside the old tote board, now a flag storage center and groundskeeping HQ.


The view from the other side.

29 December 2011

2011 Year in Review

A lot of the events that happened last year could be copied and pasted with minor alterations and no one would notice the difference. A filly is the likely horse of the year (Rachel Alexandra 2009 and Zenyatta 2010), the three-year-old colts performed the one and done symphony in the Triple Crown, and there is a lack of depth in the older males division.

Havre de Grace’s rise to the top was not a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. She had to face her nemesis Blind Luck twice and her last start against her foe was a gut wrenching nose defeat going 1 ¼ miles. She rebounded with an authoritative score against males in the Woodward and aired against her own gender in the Beldame. Those two late season scores came against the likes of Flat Out and Royal Delta, not bad company. The season ended sourly for her with a defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, not detracting from her record of five wins from seven starts and three grade one victories. Unfortunately she has come along after two years that featured the brilliance of Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Goldikova. If her record was separated from this group of years and placed in a different generation, she would be held in much higher regard.

The three-year-old colts played hot potato with division leader status all year and that is why we are in this predicament. After Uncle Mo, the default leader defected from the Derby there was much changing of the guard. Animal Kingdom was crowned leader only to beget by Shackleford who then was thrashed by Ruler On Ice only to be squashed by Coil who was uprooted by Stay Thirsty. Outside of the traditional classics there was some consistency with Caleb’s Posse and To Honor and Serve. Caleb’s Posse won four graded stakes ranging from six and half furlongs to one mile and a sixteenth with two of those victories being in grade one company. Outside of the Classic flop To Honor and Serve did little wrong from August to November with three wins, one being against the brass of the division in the Pennsylvania Derby and the other against his seniors in the Cigar Mile. He will be set up for a big run in 2012 with a likely start in the Met Mile.

As for the case against making Caleb’s Posse best of his division, it is hard to understand why he wouldn’t be considered for the honors. The horses that competed in the classic races of the spring were not that good or fast; Animal Kingdom may be a one-time wonder, Shackleford looked weak outside of one freak performance in mid May, and Ruler On Ice ran the race of his life in the Belmont. Caleb’s Posse at least posed some sort of consistent form throughout the season and should be awarded for it even though he took an unconventional route in doing so.

Gio Ponti was made champion older colt after a strong season on turf in 2009, Cape Blanco may do the same thing this year after an uninspiring year for the older dirt runners. Tizway was considered the beast of the east before hitting the sidelines, but with only two grade one victories and an extremely spaced out schedule from April to August it has put his chances of winning the title on the rocks. Flat Out tried usurping the title from Tizway with wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Suburban, but was exposed with three loses at Churchill and two losses at Saratoga. Game On Dude was very game in his performances, but a two for seven winning record in stakes company is tough to put a title on.

A year that started out with a murky picture for the keynote divisions did not improve and in some cases got even darker. This was a strange year for certain. There is no despair here though. With a New Year upon us new things come to fruition like a renewal of the reliable Derby failure five, featuring this year’s Juvenile hero Hansen! Likely there will be other twists and turns along the way too. Remember that Stormy’s Majesty is always lurking in the weeds.

03 November 2011

Uncle Mo vs. 1 1/4 miles and fourteen other races

With six Breeders' Cup races on Friday and nine on Saturday, it is almost certain financial doom to play every race. With this being said, we here at Powercap introduce the almost infallible five star rating system to evaluate the races on hand.

The Friday Slate

The Distaff (Race 10)

Last year it was a rematch of Havre de Grace and Blind Luck, this year It's Tricky and Plum Pretty square off for the fourth time this year. Elsewhere in the field is Ask the Moon, her connections made an interesting decision of running at Santa Anita in her latest to no avail after two good efforts at the Spa. If she can rebound from her last race, she will be a tough customer here.

The Filly & Mare Turf (Race 9)

This is the race where the American based turf runners have the best chance of winning against the Europeans on their familiar surface. Stacelita is listed as the 2/1 favorite and has the edge of winning at 1 3/8 miles around the tight turns. Her last race was over a turf that was dead slow, my figures have it at -19 slow.

The Filly & Mare Sprint (Race 7)

Turbulent Descent looks to sew up a title here and she looks like a vulnerable favorite. The Puype filly has been off since early August and the early pace of that race was average at best before Descent blew by competition like Roman Treasure late.

An interesting horse in this spot is Great Hot who had two starts in October and a start against her elders in the Lady's Secret. Her sprint starts are decent from the looks of it going three for three in her attempts.

The Juvenile Sprint (Race 5)

Yet another juvenile cash grab has been added to the schedule. Trinniberg has come up short twice against stakes competition. Secret Circle ran big in his debut race. Toss Vexor's Hopeful performance and he doesn't miss the board in his short career. Seeker had a big race two back on Hopeful day. It should be a good first installment for this race.

The Juvenile Fillies (Race 8)

My Miss Aurelia looks to avoid the career trajectory that AZ Warrior took after her win in last year's Frizette.

The Juvenile Fillies Turf (Race 6)

On the course of any card there is a race or two that handicappers don't like playing and the combined phrase of juvenile fillies on the turf is my kryptonite.

The Saturday Slate

The Classic (Race 11)

The five million dollar question here is Uncle Mo's ability to stay the mile and a quarter. The last time a three year old favorite tried stretching out from one mile to a mile and a quarter was Fusaichi Pegasus. It didn't work in 2000, I have my doubts it will work now. Keep in mind that Fusaichi Pegasus was trying this after winning the Derby. The longest distance that Mo has won at was a mile and a sixteenth.

Ruler On Ice looks interesting here, he gets a ten pound weight shift from To Honor and Serve and has won at a mile and half. Stay Thirsty also gets another look here as the unheralded Repole entry here, he ran in every step of the Belmont and won the midsummer classic. To Honor and Serve comes in hot here and the only setback is he is picking up eight pounds off of his previous start.

The Sprint (Race 5)

I guess that Zito is one of the twelve readers of this blog.

The Mile (Race 10)

Apparently Goldikova is on the decline, if I owned a horse that was on this type downward spiral I would be overjoyed. Win or lose, this mare's spot as one of the all time Breeders' Cup performers is secure. It will be quite a while until another one like her comes around.

The Dirt Mile (Race 7)

In a rare occurrence the Preakness winner is in a race that is not the Classic. In his defeats since the Preakness the margin has been 7 3/4, a neck, 22 1/2, and 4 3/4. He is probably a good bet against here.

Tapizar came back with a victory after missing the Triple Crown series, he is probably a bit short for this spot. He does look like one to watch out for in the 2012 season though.

Trappe Shot is in this race after seemingly being aimed at the Sprint all season long, his running style better meant for the mile distance though. Not a lot was lost in transition to this race.

The Juvenile Turf (Race 4)

If it weren't for the Pilgrim returnees entered here this race would be a one star affair. Shkspeare Shaliyah and Fantastic Song ran a closing number over the dead boggy turf that was 14 and 17 lengths faster than average. Not bad for a turf runner and that is exceptional for juveniles.

The Juvenile (Race 9)

Union Rags could wrap up the Juvenile title and Derby favoritism with a win here. It seems like anytime there is a two year colt that wins two or three big races in NY they are immediately shot to the front of every public handicapper's Derby list. They usually fall short of the Derby expectations. It happened to Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve last year, Nobiz Like Shobiz years ago, and Doneraile Court around a decade ago. The last time a hyped NY juvenile won a triple crown race was 2004 when Birdstone upset the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones.

The Turf (Race 8)

The European invaders will all be bet here and Steven Crist is a big fan of the American turf runners entered. Of course the overseas counterparts have a great edge, they carry weight in the big races and all of their marquee events are on the lawn.

The Marathon (Race 3)
The Turf Sprint (Race 6)

These two categories are also my handicapping kryptonite.

22 October 2011

Finally Contessa Gets It Right

This race is the play of the day. Preachintothedevil finally cuts back to a dirt sprint. His biggest career win was in a dirt sprint. His highest career beyer fig was in a dirt sprint. His dam was the famous Grade I winning dirt sprinter Acey Deucey. So what does Contessa do with this crack sprinter? He runs him in grass routes, dirt routes, poly routes , turf sprints- with the way this guy has been handled I am surprised Contessa-San didn't enter him in a steeplechase. Finally he is entered in the right kind of race and he should give a true account of his skills today.

W #8 Preachintothedevil

ps. This is my first post after an extended hiatus from the game.

20 October 2011

They start with an advantage

It’s the end of October and that means two things. The first is that all of the important grade one races are over until the fourth of November and it is now time for the state breeding programs to shine. This upcoming Saturday is New York Showcase day and next week California bred runners take the spotlight. Last week Delaware and Thistledown showed off the best of their breeding programs from their states.

The fact of the matter is that while a lot of the state bred races from any track is usually impossible to scope at times, they serve a purpose of bringing in handle and filling the daily racing cards. Without the NY bred maiden special weight or first level allowance races that usually populate the weekday cards, NYRA would likely have to cutback racing dates due to the lack of races being filled. Not to go as far as using the term “necessary evil”, but these races usually serve a purpose on a daily basis.

In the instance of the showcase day cards, they usually are loaded cards with some decent fields. Not to mention the occasional horse on the rise that pop up once in a while. Funny Cide won the 2002 Sleepy Hollow and Haynesfield won the 2009 Empire Classic, the year after their victories were multiple graded stakes winners.

The state bred showcase days serve as a useful part of the racing landscape at this time of the year when the all stars of the sport converge on location, leaving the feeder tracks with little pull in the way of attention towards their racing product. The restricted state bred stakes races fill what would be a dead card with some interesting match-ups and provide some cover to what otherwise would be referred to as a barren part of the racing calendar.